Session definition updated in Google Analytics

On August 11 Google Analytics changed their attribution model and it’s had a bit of a dramatic effect in some accounts. Visits are way up, and metrics that depend on visits such as e-commerce conversion rate are consequently affected as well. There was a bug that was fixed on August 17 that did inflate visits even when the campaign source did not change, but visits seem to be back to “normal”.

Some people seem quite upset about the change, but I am not sure whether this is about the temporary bug or about the underlying change, which in my opinion is great news. I totally disagree with comments such as this one:

As a data analytic, the most important thing is data consistency. The ability to measure changes in traffic, conversion, bounce, etc. is the most important aspect of an analytics effort.

As with any model, it’s not so much about being “right” or “wrong“, but whether the model is useful. Does your model help you understand your customers a little bit better and make smarter decisions? If there is a better model then you should change to that one.

Ironically, the data causing higher visit numbers was there all along! It was just hidden due to the way Google Analytics used to count visits, pageviews, etc. Anyone remember 0 visits?

Here is what is happening by way of an example.

  1. Grab this custom report for the new Google Analytics and pick a date before Aug 11

  2. Filter the data to only show keywords where visits = 0

I see something like this:

Almost 6% of visitors have such 0 visit keywords. Now go try and find any of these keywords in your regular keywords reports. You won’t be able to find them because they have been taken out.

Now pick a date after Aug 11.

Almost all of the 0 visit keywords have disappeared because they are now attached to a visit. Hence they will show up in your regular reports. You should therefore find that you actually have more keywords now.

So there you have it. 6% more keywords in my example, which indeed opens up the possibility of having better attribution management as was pointed out in the post. The bigger the change, the more you should worry about attribution.

Finally, I am not a huge fan of visit-based metrics anyway. Who cares if your dear customers take 1 or 2 visits before placing an order? The main thing is that they accomplished their goals during each visit, i.e. browse in the first visit, have a cup of tea, then buy in the second visit.